This week marks the passing of another legend, Charles Aznavour, who died on Monday the 1st of October at the ripe old age of 94.
The song he’s most famous for was covered, in his own inimitable style, by the artist who co-wrote SOTW59, Elvis Costello. The cover version featured in the closing sequence of the movie Notting Hill. It hit number 19 in the UK, as well as charting all over Europe. Our Elvis is currently recovering from cancer surgery, so let’s hope he returns to full health soon. Let’s wish him all the best.
‘She’ was a collaboration between Aznavour and long time collaborator Herbert Kretzmer who is best known as the lyricist for the English-language adaption of Les Misérables. Kretzmer is still going strong at 92 years old. His 93rd birthday is this Friday. Happy Birthday Herb! Have a listen to another of their successful collaborations, the wistful Yesterday When I Was Young.
‘She’ was released as a single in 1974, and originally written in English, as the theme tune for the TV Series Seven Faces of Woman.
The song was required to link together the stories of seven modern women depicted in the series, each story covering a different stage of life, so the woman Aznavour sings about is never named.
The producers of the show originally wanted Marlene Dietrich to perform the song, but lyricist Kretzmer wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted it be sung by Aznavour.
“If there is one thing I know about the mystery of women it’s that they don’t talk about it. If they did, it wouldn’t be a mystery.”
The song spent four weeks at number one in the UK, but took longer to catch on in his home country, maybe in part because the word ‘she’ sounds like a French slang word for (pardon my French) ‘shit’.
Aznavour also recorded a French, German, Italian and Spanish version of the song. Here’s the French version: Tous les visages de l’amour. He also recorded an up-tempo jazzier version of the same song, but titled Elle with Thomas Dutronc that’s worth checking out.
Aznavour was born with the name Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian, in 1924 in the St Germain des Pres district of Paris, the son of Armenian parents who were restaurant owners.
He dropped out of school early, and began singing in Paris nightclubs, where he was taken under the wing of Edith Piaf, who recognised his genius when he was still a young man.
Many of his songs were controversial at the time, taboo-breaking efforts like What Makes a Man (Comme Ils Disent), a ballad of a lonely gay man, which was banned upon release. In 2014 he told Canada’s The Star he wanted to highlight “the specific problems my gay friends faced… I could see things were different for them, that they were marginalised… It is still forbidden in unenlightened countries… I sang it on the Johnny Carson show 25 years ago. They were not happy about it, but I received many grateful letters.”
During his career he starred in at least 75 films, including Francois Truffaut´s Shoot the Piano Player.
He became a United Nations representative for Armenia. The cause of Armenia was always dear to him and he used his fame to raise awareness of the Armenian Genocide.
In response to the 1988 Armenian Earthquake, he founded the charity Aznavour for Armenia along with his long-time friend impressario Levon Sayan.
On the day of his death on the official Twitter account of Republic of Armenia was posted: “Today, Armenia and the World lost a legend, Charles Azvanour. Brightest among the brightest, his voice will always remain in our hearts. We bow before you, Maestro.”
The French are equally proud. French minister Francoise Nyssen paid the following tribute:
“Charles Aznavour has for almost a century embodied what France is… He sang love, the passing of time, the joys and disappointments of a life, his happy moments, a sweet melancholy… France has lost Aznavour, a true legend who crossed borders and times.”
‘She’ reached number 1 in both the UK and Ireland, but did not do as well in countries where the TV show was not available. It failed to reach the top 40 in France, and did not chart on the Billboard Top 100 in the United States.
Since then it’s gone on to be a classic, but it’s only one of many written by a man with a career spanning eight decades. He influenced and impressed contemporaries like Sinatra (he was known as the French Sinatra) and Bob Dylan, who was featured in SOTW28.
In Dylan´s 1987 Rolling Stone interview named Aznavour as one of the greatest live performers he’s ever seen. Here he is pictured with Bob at the Nobel Prize ceremony in 2017.
In 1998 he was named CNN’s Greatest Entertainer of the Century, finishing ahead of the likes of Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan.
Aznavour was awarded the 2,618th star on the Hollywood Blvd Walk of Fame, and later that year he and his sister were awarded the Raoul Wallenberg Award for sheltering Jews during World War II.
He played his last concert only a couple of weeks ago, on the 17th of September 2018, in NHK Hall in Tokyo.
Au revoir Charles, et merci!
A trace of pleasure or regret
May be my treasure or the price I have to pay
She may be the song that Salome sings
May be the chill that autumn brings
May be a hundred different things
Within the measure of a day
May be the famine or the feast
May turn each day into a heaven or a hell
She may be the mirror of my dream
A smile reflected in a stream
She may not be what she may seem
Inside her shell
Whose eyes can be so private and so proud
No one’s allowed to see them when they cry
She may be the love that cannot hope to last
May come to me from shadows of the past
That I remember till the day I die
The why and wherefore I’m alive
The one I’ll care for through the rough and ready years
Me, I’ll take her laughter and her tears
And make them all my souvenirs
For where she goes I’ve got to be
The meaning of my life is she, she
Je ne sais jamais qui tu es
Tu changes si souvent de visage et d’aspect
Toi, quel que soit ton âge et ton nom
Tu es un ange ou le démon
Quand pour moi tu prends tour à tour
Tous les visages de l’amourToi, si Dieu ne t’avait modeler
Il m’aurait fallut te créer
Pour donner à ma vie sa raison d’exister
Toi qui est ma joie et mon tourment
Tantôt femme et tantôt enfant
Tu offres à mon coeur chaque jour
Tous les visages de l’amourMoi je suis le feu qui grandit ou qui meurt
Je suis le vent qui rugis ou qui pleure
Je suis la force ou la faiblesse
Moi je pourrais défier le ciel et l’enfer
Je pourrais dompter la terre et la mer
Et réinventer la jeunesseToi, viens fais de moi ce que tu veux
Un homme heureux ou malheureux
Un mot de toi, je suis poussière ou je suis Dieu
Toi sois mon espoir sois mon destin
J’ai si peur de mes lendemains
Montre à mon âme sans secours
Tous les visages de l’amour
Toi, tous les visages de l’amour